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Allerdale GDF Working Group – December Newsletter

December 20, 2021

Welcome to the latest and last newsletter from the Allerdale GDF Working Group.

As you may have seen in the local news, a vote on whether Allerdale Borough Council should join a GDF Community Partnership took place on 24th November and Council leadership voted in favour.

This means that the Working Group will now begin to wind down to make way for a larger and more enduring Community Partnership to form in the New Year.

The role of the Community Partnership will be to consider the possibilities of Allerdale hosting a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) in more detail, by building on the Working Group’s early engagement with the public and creating a vision for long-term community well-being. More information about the role of the Community Partnership can be found on our website.

Since our launch in January last year, we have been listening to your views and trying to create as many opportunities as possible for you to find out information, ask questions and discuss your concerns.

As well as communicating with you through our newsletters, website, Virtual Exhibition, social media channels, letters and leaflets, we also hosted four online events, 14 face-to-face public drop-in sessions and held 183 meetings with individuals, local organisations and other key stakeholders.

It has been a pleasure to talk to so many of you over the last 12 months, and I want to thank you for taking part in the conversation and sharing your views so openly.

Our final Working Group newsletter covers more of the topics that you have asked questions about, and until the Community Partnership officially launches, we’ll still be here to answer questions and listen to your views, so we encourage you to keep in touch.

Warm wishes for the festive season,

Jocelyn Manners-Armstrong – Independent Chair, Allerdale GDF Working Group

 

You Asked

You asked: ‘How will the waste be regulated or monitored once the GDF is filled, and will it be retrievable?’

A monitoring programme will be required to assess any changes caused by construction, operation and closure of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).  This programme will include measurements of geological, physical and chemical parameters which are relevant to environmental safety and which might change as a result of construction and waste emplacement. The types of technology used include sensors in boreholes, in-situ monitoring within the GDF, and monitoring of the surface environment.

The UK Government and regulators agree that the purpose of a GDF is to dispose of waste, not store it. During the operational stage of a GDF (when waste is being accepted), waste that has been placed into a GDF could be retrieved if there was a compelling reason to do so.  Current Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) forecasts show that a GDF could be open for construction and waste emplacement for around one hundred years, to accommodate the current volume of legacy waste.  Retrieving emplaced waste would tend to become more difficult with time, particularly once a GDF has been closed permanently.

Permanently closing a GDF at the earliest opportunity once operations have ceased provides for greater safety, greater security, and minimises the burden on future generations.

 

Hydrogeology

What is Hydrogeology and why is it important for Geological Disposal?

Hydrogeology is the study of water in rocks (groundwater) and includes both how it moves through the rock and what naturally occurring chemicals it contains.  There is a lot of information on shallow groundwater in aquifers that are used for water supply, but information on deeper groundwater, in the 200-1,000 metre depth range of interest for a GDF is less common since it has historically been of less interest.

For Allerdale, this means we don’t have a lot of existing local information about groundwater. Groundwater movement is important because it is one of the ways in which radioactive material could be carried back to the surface.  The chemistry of groundwater is important too, because it affects the design of the engineering parts of a GDF but can also tell us about the potential safety of a site.  For example, if the groundwater is very old, it indicates that the rock is isolated from the surface environment over a long timescale.

How is it studied?

Initially the hydrogeology of other similar areas for which information is available can be considered to understand the range of groundwater chemistries that might be present and the different ways in which water might be moving through the rock. However, to fully understand the hydrogeology, site specific information will be needed.

Investigation of potential sites would mostly be achieved through drilling boreholes. This will allow the collection of rock and groundwater samples.  These samples can be tested and analysed in the laboratory to understand how water moves through the rock and the chemical make-up of the groundwater.  Testing in the boreholes using specialist equipment developed in the oil and gas and mining sectors would also be used to measure these properties in the rock around the boreholes. Finally monitoring systems would be installed that can measure how these properties change over time at different depths in the boreholes.

How will Groundwater information be presented?

The understanding that is developed from the desk-based studies and then the borehole investigations will be presented in a number of ways. Initially schematic diagrams presenting our understanding of the hydrogeology will be used, for instance vertical cross-sections through the ground showing the direction in which groundwater moves at different depths. As more data is collected numerical models will be developed that can represent the ground in three-dimensions and test our predictions against the actual data that we collect.  All of the raw data that is used to underpin our understanding will be made available for independent scientists and regulators to check.

How will this be regulated?

RWM needs permission to drill boreholes and will apply for a permit from the Environment Agency. The permit application needs to explain why the boreholes are required, their design (depth, diameter etc), and what information will be collected.  It will also need to set out how a borehole can be sealed after use.  More information on this can be found here.

Marine Geological Survey

A key issue that has emerged through our discussions with the community is that you want a better understanding about whether the geology in Allerdale has any potential to safely host a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).

To better understand the local geology, various environmental and geophysical investigations and surveys will be undertaken. The first of these are non-intrusive marine geophysical surveys off the coast which will provide significantly increased understanding of the deep geology in coastal environments. These surveys could start around summer 2022 as part of a continuing data-gathering process.

All marine activities will be subject to consultation with the maritime authorities, including fisheries representatives, and marine environment regulators.

If you would like to find out more, you can view previously published findings of a nation-wide geological screening exercise here that was based on existing data.

“We’ll be acquiring data from previous surveys and also carrying out investigations using specialist vessels. Initially, we’re taking steps to ensure we have specialist contractors in place to carry out the surveys at the appropriate times.

“These surveys will deploy techniques that are routine in the oil, gas and offshore wind industries, similar to the ultrasound imaging that’s widely used in medicine. 

“The surveys can generate three dimensional images of the deep geology, either below the land or below the seabed, providing information about the thickness, layering, and depths of the different rock types in particular geographical areas.

“The information obtained will help us to further consider the suitability of an area to host a GDF, which will in turn facilitate a more productive, informed dialogue with the communities that are at the heart of the siting process.”

Andy Parkes, RWM’s Site Characterisation Project Director

 

Rethink the Future: The Nuclear Dilemma

A short new online documentary from the BBC describes why radioactive waste exists in the UK, how it’s being dealt with and the role of nuclear power in the context of global climate change.

 

Made in partnership with the Open University, the film interviews waste specialist Professor Claire Corkhill and other academics, who discuss our existing radioactive waste and the need for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), where the most hazardous wastes would be safe for hundreds of thousands of years while the radioactivity decays naturally.

The film looks at Finland’s repository, currently under construction, and uses graphic illustrations to depict a typical underground system similar to a GDF that will feature highly engineered tunnels and vaults.

You can watch the documentary on BBC iPlayer: BBC iPlayer – Rethink the Future – Series 1: 8. The Nuclear Dilemma

Geological Disposal was also mentioned in Episode 3 of The Lakes with Simon Reeve, where Simon gets rare access to Sellafield’s facilities to see the important decommissioning work underway.

It’s an interesting report and you can watch it here.